By Amy Dinning
Making professional and personal connections shouldn't be a chore.
What word do you hear quite often in the business world, social events, and especially when you are considering your career? Networking. While it has become somewhat of a buzzword, it is extremely important as a life skill.
What is networking? First, let's talk about what it's not: Networking is not about collecting business cards. Rather, it is about building relationships.
A more formal definition of networking is that it's a supportive system of sharing information and connections among individuals having a common interest. You have heard the expression that whenever we want to get something done we can do it most effectively through people and relationships. That is true not only when it comes to one's career, but also in one's personal life.
I believe that the reason I am successful and fulfilled in my life is because of the network that I am constantly building and maintaining. Networking enables us to gain new information, find answers to challenges, understand others' viewpoints, develop ourselves and others, and gain new connections and friendships. We learn and grow through these relationships and being open to what we can experience from them.
The truth is, we can network anywhere and everywhere. I am always looking for people who I can help, new information that I can learn, ways that I can connect people to information and people to other people, and ways to broaden my own horizons. Some great examples of places to network are:
Now that you know where you can network, how do you go about it?
First, it is important to have a mindset that you are always networking, and to be prepared to do so.
If you are attending an event and know who will be there, decide beforehand who you would like to connect with. Research those individuals online so you can determine what you might have in common and topics that you can discuss. Think about questions you might ask these individuals or things you want to learn from them.
When you're at parties or networking events, be willing to break the ice and go up to people. Usually people are waiting for someone else to come up to them—be that person. Be curious and inquisitive. Ask great questions that get people talking. Show interest in others and what they have to share.
Take that one step further and have something of value to share with them. Think of ways that you can add value to that person, such as information, direction, resources, or connections.
Follow up to stay in contact with the people you network with. Many people meet others but never follow up, thus losing valuable connections. Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn and make sure to send them a personalized invitation. You might want to remind the person what you discussed in person.
Accept that you will not have strong connections with everyone you meet. Identify individuals who are power connectors and work at maintaining those relationships.
Remember, networking is about forming mutually beneficial relationships. Make sure that both of you have the opportunity to share, ask questions, and learn from each other.
Develop a record-keeping system for your network. LinkedIn is a great tool by which to make connections, stay connected, and find connections. You can export your LinkedIn connections to an Excel spreadsheet, then add notes to track information, such as where and when you met someone, what information you shared with them, who they connected you to, and any other information that you want to remember.
Finally, how do you maintain your network? If you are not in contact, those connections fade over time. Here are several strategies you might want to use to keep your network alive:
Be visible, both online and in person. I post on LinkedIn, tweet or retweet, blog, write articles, and share information that I believe benefits others. I also attend networking events and professional association gatherings to make sure that I am visible.
Connect and reconnect. When attending events, my goal is to make new connections as well as to reconnect with people already in my network. I want to find out what is happening with them, how I can help them, and also share what is happening with me.
Make a special effort with power connectors. Make it a point to reconnect with power connectors on a regular basis. You will want to keep those relationships alive and growing to benefit both you and your connection.
Reach out in between events. Consider sending a newsletter to your networking circle every so often to stay in touch. If you are in job transition, this is a critical tool in your job search toolkit. You can send an email, a message through LinkedIn, or use a service such as Constant Contact. The newsletter I send includes my current role, how I can help others, and how they can help me.
You never know when you might need your network, so it is important to find ways to keep in contact, reconnect, and add value wherever possible.
I cannot put a price on the friendships I have developed, knowledge that I have gained, and the many other benefits I have acquired as a result of focusing on networking as a lifelong pursuit. Plus, I believe that I have been able to help many people through my openness to networking.
What's stopping you? Don't miss out; start networking today.